Name: Valerie Barr ’77
Department: Computer Science
Title: Jean E. Sammet Professor of Computer Science; Chair of Computer Science; Co-chair, Data Science committee
Teaches: introductory courses; electives including modeling and simulation, programming languages; and compiler construction; data science capstone.
Valerie Barr ’77 is on a mission.
“I want every Mount Holyoke student, no matter their major, to walk across the stage, get their diploma and know that they understand certain core concepts of computing,” she says. “So no matter what they end up doing, they can have an intelligent conversation with the person who's providing the software and the computing capabilities in their job setting.”
The new data science major, established in July 2019, was a giant step toward this goal. The College is deeply committed to data science, which became a Nexus concentration in 2016 and a major in 2019. Barr is the co-chair of the data science committee.
The data science major requirements combine courses in computer science and statistics, plus a domain area. So far these have mostly been in STEM subjects and the social sciences, including economics, politics, biology, sociology and dance.
Barr is also reaching out to community organizations who would benefit from data science expertise but can't afford to hire a data scientist. This spring a team of her students partnered with the Pioneer Valley’s local Girls Inc. chapter to study asthma and lead levels in the neighborhoods and schools of their participants. This project is part of a Five College National Science Foundation grant to develop a data science workforce.
“They’re identifying the problem and applying their data science skills to addressing very real problems,” Barr says. “Two students used their Lynk funding to continue the research over the summer. That's another wonderful place where support from the College is then wrapping around and helping these students continue their work, which will have a lasting impact on these communities.”